by Karl H. Kazaks
GREENSBORO, NC – In Greensboro’s south end, in an old warehouse which once served as part of a commercial laundry, a distillery was founded in 2016.
Fainting Goat Spirits is the brainchild of father-son team Bill and Andrew Norman (with plenty of support from Bill’s wife Shelley and their daughter Lesley). The name Fainting Goat Spirits comes from the fact that even if they fall down, they get back up. The distillery is also known locally as Greensboro Distilling.
“It’s important to be downtown and be part of the community,” Andrew said.
On weekends the distillery is open for tastings and tours. When the weather is warm, Bill will roll up the front door and sit out front in a rocking chair. He makes quite a sight in his blue denim bib overalls with his bald pate and a long salt-and-pepper beard.
“He’s good at bringing people in,” Andrew said.
And the spirits customers taste when they come in are good at making them glad they came in.
Fainting Goat makes five products: a vodka, a gin, a (non-peated) American single malt, a straight rye whiskey and an as-yet-unreleased bourbon. All of them are made with North Carolina-grown grain.
Tiny Cat Vodka is smooth and creamy, qualities which speak to its wheat base. “It’s a whiskey drinker’s vodka,” Andrew said.
“We don’t just treat it as an ingredient,” Bill added.
“We want to make sure it tastes good on its own but also as a mixer,” Andrew said.
Emulsion Gin has a strongly floral nose, with lavender and orange peel aromas joining in with the juniper. On the palate, the gin is very crisp and clean.
Fainting Goat macerates the gin’s aromatics during fermentation, rather than imparting the aromas through a gin basket during distillation. They dedicate one of their 300-gallon open-top fermenters strictly for gin production.
Fainting Goat released its non-peated single malt, C.B. Fisher’s American Single Malt, at 18 months. It has gentle tastes of honey, vanilla and a bit of char, a flavor drawn from aging in charred new American white oak barrels.
All of Fainting Goat’s spirits are aged in new charred American white oak barrels, even some of the gin, for a short amount of time. (It is aged in barrels with number three char; the other spirits are all aged in barrels with number four char.)
C.B. Fisher’s Straight Rye Whiskey, with a mash bill of 60 percent rye, 30 percent corn and 10 percent barley, was released in December and is one of North Carolina’s first straight whiskies. The whiskey has been so well received that Andrew, who does all the distilling, has since doubled production of the product.
Andrew attributes the success of the whiskey – like the success of all of Fainting Goat’s spirits – to the house distilling style.
“We go low and slow,” he said. “We use lower temperatures to retain more of the delicate flavors. It takes work but makes a big difference.”
The bourbon, resting in a rick house along with a test batch of a wheated bourbon, is made from 60 percent corn, 30 percent rye and 10 percent barley.
The Normans got into distilling because Bill saw some similarities to his former career as an executive chef, especially the mixing and blending aspects.
Andrew got into it because the first time he ran an original test still, and as he put it, “saw liquor dripping out, I knew that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
They also got into it because they loved drinking bourbon and wanted to make products which were delicious to drink. “We want our clear liquors to taste good too,” Bill said.
Someday, the Normans may buy rum, tequila or both and age it in their used whiskey barrels. But their main focus will continue to be their production of two clear spirits and their line of whiskeys.
“From the first day we’ve made all five products,” Andrew said. “It’s a long game for us. My goal is to some day have a twenty-year whiskey.”